You know those cheesy holiday commercials or those convenience food brand ads where the whole family is sitting at the table for dinner and the kids are smiling and everyone’s enjoying being together?
Seems borderline impossible, but I am not kidding when I tell you that’s pretty much a picture of my house when I was growing up. With rare exceptions, we always sat down and had dinner together. And it was fun. Really, truly fun.
My mom usually cooked, but sometimes my dad did. The table was always set. The five of us, my parents, two brothers and I, sat down. We blessed the food. We ate, and we talked, and we laughed. I talked three times as much as my brothers. We shared our days. It was nice. It felt normal.
Now I realize how completely abnormal that really is. Not only because I find how rare an experience it is when I talk to others, but also because I see how difficult it is to make it happen in my own family. How easy to just stand at the counter and eat quickly! Or feed the kids something simple and eat our own meal after they’re tucked in bed. Less noisy that way, too.
There are so many factors that contribute to me not making family dinner a priority. I work part-time. I’m tired. It’s so hard to make something everyone likes. It’s too late because we spent so much time on homework and other shenanigans. I’m tired. I forgot the one thing at the store. I forgot to take the meat out of the freezer. I’M SO TIRED.
But more than this, I think I stopped prioritizing our family dinner time because the entire evening has become a giant chore on my to-do list, and all I want to do is check it off. I’ve found myself picking the kids up from school and basically chanting “Just make it to bed-time” to myself over and over while I go through the motions.
Pick kids up from school: 5 hours until bedtime
Do homework and empty lunch boxes and make the kids do their chores: 4 hours until bedtime
Make dinner and make the next day’s lunches: 3 hours until bedtime
Eat dinner and finish laundry and lay out clothes: 2 hours until bedtime
Baths (I mean…like a couple days a week), pajamas, picking up, teeth brushing, etc.: 1 hour until bedtime
(This is a very abbreviated list…we all know we do a thousand other things during these 5 hours as well)
BEDTIME! DING DING DING!
And then it’s don’t you dare come out and talk to me, people. I’m off the clock. But of course, between the four of them there are like 20 or so coming-outs before everyone settles down.
Anyhow, it occurred to me randomly one night that I was never truly in the moment. I think I was in the middle of bathing a kid and she was being cute and I was completely unaffected by it. Joy had left all of those things. I only had eyes for bedtime, my one true love. But really that means I only had eyes for my selfishness, because bedtime means me-time.
I find it very difficult to be present in the mundane stuff. Are you with me, parents??
It’s so hard to love being told the same story over and over, or to enjoy math facts that you thought you were done with 20 years ago.
My knees are getting too old for that tile floor and washing hair feels like tackling feral cats.
I can’t believe I’m folding laundry. Again. For the 2,000th day in a row.
And this dinner. Ugh. This dinner. Can we please just get it over with?
But an older, wiser friend of mine once told me that not everyone has to enjoy the same types of things, but God does intend for you to find joy in the life He’s given you. If that’s lacking, you should go looking for it. What do you enjoy, Katie?
Well, as it turns out, I really enjoy dinner time. I just forgot that I did.
I decided to take back dinner time.
It’s been kind of a slow process over the last few months. And I’m certainly not where I want us to be yet. But I’m consciously trying to re-capture the joy that I felt during my childhood.
The sound of dishes and pots and pans clanging in the kitchen. The smells beginning to waft through the house. The little voices: What are we having?? The sitting down together, despite how chaotic it is. The sharing of our “bests” (our favorite moments of the day). The praying and daddy opening the Word and the singing. Even the clearing and the washing. All of it.
It starts with preparation. I’m not the world’s best meal planner and sometimes it makes me want to bang my head against the wall. But thanks to this new Wal-mart grocery car delivery thing (DO THIS IMMEDIATELY PEOPLE), I am lately staying fairly prepared to cook most days.
I’m also braving the store with my four children and making them help me with the list and the cart-filling. The truth is that they love it. I’m the one who hates it. But it’s good for everyone.
Next, comes same-day preparation. I am a procrastinator of the highest degree (example: should have written this 2 days ago…). I can put things off like few can. Which means I can put off thinking about dinner until 5:59pm. So by 3:00 at least, I’ve decided I have to know what I’m making and be moving that direction. Seems obvious, but, again, procrastinator of the highest degree.
Aside from the practical stuff, though, the biggest change I’ve made is simply remembering to enjoy it. I like to cook! Why did I forget that I do? I think I felt I couldn’t do it in the midst of the bedlam. But turns out you really can enjoy cooking dinner while kids run in and out of the kitchen and ask you a zillion questions.
These days I try to stop everything else around 5:00 and simply enjoy the whole dinner process. Sometimes I pour myself a glass of wine and turn on some good music and the kids sing and dance along (or go watch a show…because sometimes mommy needs a break). I don’t worry that the laundry isn’t done or the homework is still all over the counter or I’ve got some work waiting for me when the kids go down. I just find joy in that moment.
Joy isn’t about circumstances, it’s about the position of the heart. All of it is from above, and God is good and loving. Relax. Enjoy His good gifts. They are meant for you to enjoy.
And make dinner time a priority. It’s hard work but it’s worth it. I’ve got an entire childhood of it as proof.